I’m struggling with the ideas of foreknowledge and free will
Thank you for all your articles and answers. They are beneficial.
I have recently been struggling very much with the idea of foreknowledge and free will. I have always believed that we have free will and that God can simply use whatever our decisions are to accomplish his will. However, there are a few points that continue to bother me:
- Isaiah predicts that Cyrus will deliver the Jews and rebuild Jerusalem. How could he know that Cyrus would freely choose to do that?
- How could Jesus know for sure that Peter would deny him? Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him three times and that it would happen before the rooster crowed. How could Jesus know that Peter would do it, do it three times, and that it would happen before the rooster? How could it be certain?
- How could Jesus know for sure that Judas would betray him? John 13:11 says that he knew Judas would betray him. It leaves no room for the possibility that Judas could change his mind and someone else could fulfill the need of Jesus' betrayal. Furthermore, John 6:67 says that Jesus knew "from the beginning" who didn't believe and who would betray him. It seems very clear that Jesus knew all along that Judas would absolutely betray him, but this seems so problematic for free will.
I'm just not sure how to understand foreknowledge alongside free will. Without free will, everything collapses. But verses such as these seem so clearly to teach that God knows who is going to do what, and I don't know what to do with that. Quite frankly, it scares me and keeps me from getting rest.
Any assistance would be appreciated.
When a businessman buys extra material in April because he knows his busiest sales month is in May, we understand that he knows his business and customers well. We don't suspect that he is controlling his buyers.
God knows His creation better than we know ourselves. He also knows all the events and factors that people weigh when making decisions. He is aware of uncountable things that we are not aware of. God uses His knowledge to nudge things in the direction He wants things to go. An example of this is found in II Kings 22 when God wanted Ahab to go to war, which would eventually lead to Ahab's prophesied death. When an evil spirit offered to lie to Ahab, God declared that the plan would work. What I find fascinating is that Ahab discovers he was lied to by the false prophets. He is told the truth and God's plans; yet, Ahab goes to war anyway. He thought he could avoid death by dressing as a common soldier, but a stray arrow strikes him under the arm where his armor didn't cover. As they carry Ahab back, he dies just as God predicted. Ahab clearly had free choice, but what Ahab thought was the best choice was one that led to his death.
That God named Cyrus over 200 years before he was born is amazing. How God brought it about, we are not told. When Cyrus captured Babylon, he did so without a fight. He then generously allowed those who were captured by Babylonia to return to their homelands. This included the Jews. Thus, he wasn't looking to fulfill the prophecy but improving his relationship with the nations he conquered.
In regards to Peter, Jesus knew that Peter was more afraid than he was letting on. God made use of the servants questioning Peter and accusing him to be a follower of Jesus to cause Peter to deny Jesus out of fear.
Judas was specifically chosen by Jesus because of his strong inclination to steal and try to make a fast buck. You will also find that Jesus made remarks, especially at the last supper that embarrassed Judas and pushed him toward wanting revenge.
While we see these examples as near impossible to cause, that is exactly the point. God's power and knowledge are so great that only God could have caused these things to occur just as He proclaimed in advance.